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Bruins Take Eastern Conference Crown in Season’s Final Period

Bruins Take Eastern Conference Crown in Season’s Final Period

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – It’s not often a race for playoff positioning lasts into the final day of the regular season, but into the final minutes as well. That’s the exact predicament the Providence Bruins and the Springfield Thunderbirds found themselves in Sunday afternoon.

Entering the third period, the two teams were deadlocked at three apiece, but the Bruins erupted with four goals from four different skaters to take a 7-3 decision. With the win, they earn the top spot in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.

On the other side, the Thunderbirds will begin defense of their Eastern Conference title by hosting the Hartford Wolf Pack in the play-in round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Vadim Zherenko took the loss for Springfield with 30 saves, while Kyle Keyser earned the win with 19 stops.

The game matched a similar flow to that of Friday’s tilt between the two teams. Providence quickly jumped out to a 2-0 lead, thanks to goals by Chris Wagner and Eduards Tralmaks just 43 seconds apart. Like Friday’s contest, Providence opened the door for Springfield to get back into the game before the first intermission, as Mikhail Abramov and Will Bitten both lit the lamp.

That’s where the similarities to Friday’s game ended.

Top-scoring forward Vinni Lettieri extended his point streak to six games to put the Bruins back in front and prevent a breakout by the Thunderbirds. Springfield would once again rebound to tie the game at three courtesy of a goal from Greg Printz, his seventh of the season, to send the teams to the intermission even.

Providence did an exceptional job limiting Springfield’s chances, reflected in identical and lopsided shot counts of 14-7 in the first and third periods; it’s hardly a coincidence those are the times the Bruins did the most damage.

The defining moment of the game happened early in the third period. With the Thunderbirds on the power play, Jack Ahcan took the puck in the neutral zone and was able to walk into the left faceoff dot, wiring a wrist shot over the glove of Zherenko perfectly to restore the lead.

That opened the floodgates as Joona Koppanen tallied shortly afterward, burying a pass from Tralmaks on the rush, followed by Marc McLaughlin‘s 13th of the season and another one from Wagner to make it seven for the Bruins.

Springfield will kick off the postseason on Wednesday at MassMutual Center, followed by the only game at XL Center in Hartford on Friday. If necessary, the teams will rematch in Springfield Saturday evening.

The Bruins will play either Springfield/Hartford/Lehigh Valley in a best-of-five set where they will have home-ice advantage, which they’ll enjoy unless they meet either the Calgary Wranglers or the Coachella Valley Firebirds in the Calder Cup Finals.

It’s the second iteration of the American Hockey League’s new playoff format for the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs, which sees four teams that were incredibly close to each other in terms of points going into the final week. It will be interesting to see if any of the repercussions of the last games of the season carry over into the playoffs, such as Lehigh Valley’s cold streak or the recent conclusion of Hartford’s win streak, as well as any recalls by any parent National Hockey League clubs who are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Providence, Charlotte, and Hartford are three such teams that could be impacted by call-ups at this stage.

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